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Georgia Targeting Political Rivals Before Elections, OSCE Says

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Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Georgian authorities are targeting political opponents with investigations and fines before parliamentary elections set for October, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.

In investigations of individual or party spending, the Black Sea nation’s Audit Office is making “questionable” decisions and imposing “harsh penalties without clear or transparent guidelines,” the Vienna-based organization’s Parliamentary Assembly said.

“We are particularly concerned by the practice of certain law enforcement institutions in Georgia,” the OSCE said today in an e-mailed statement. “Fines levied are disproportionate and apparently being applied in a selective manner mainly targeting one political subject.”

President Mikheil Saakashvili’s ruling party has 43 percent backing compared with 24 percent for billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s opposition Georgian Dream, a June-July poll by the International Republican Institute showed. Ivanishvili’s party said last week the authorities had emptied its bank accounts and are seizing all new campaign donations. The billionaire has also been fined by the government for violating party-funding rules.

While the government denied it had frozen Georgian Dream’s bank accounts, it said fines of 2.85 million lari ($1.73 million) had been levied for violating party-financing legislation, 122,000 lari of which has been collected so far.

“These false allegations are the latest in a series of attempts by the Georgian Dream to discredit Georgian institutions in advance of the October elections,” the government said today in an e-mailed statement from Tbilisi, the capital. “Throughout the campaign the Georgian Dream affiliates have willfully ignored the boundaries of the law and have even publicly claimed to do so.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Helena Bedwell in Tbilisi at hbedwell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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